After April ground to a close, after the day of the general strike, as May was just beginning but before El Cinco de Mayo and before the full moon, this mural appeared overnight in West Oakland, stretching across one long fence and the front of a very wide house.
I wish I could tell you more about the artists, but I can't. I don't know their names, their history, or their relationship to the neighborhood. I don't know why they chose to paint these faces at this time.
Is that C.L. Dellums, organizer of the first African American union and Ex-Mayor Ron Dellums' uncle, standing shoulder to shoulder with Esther Mabry, whose jazz club Esther's Orbit Room still stands shuttered on 7th street? Next, that might be Slim Jenkins in his later years; his club on 7th street hosted jazz and blues musicians for four decades, closing in the early 1960s when the building, which he never owned, was sold.
And there, holding the guitar, is that Lowell Fulson whose career began in West Oakland but who also soon flew away? If that's Fulson, where then is the man who pressed his first records and sold them from the trunk of his car, the music promoter and song writer extraordinaire, Bob Geddins, the man who co-wrote on 7th St, only a few blocks away, B.B. King's great hit "The Thrill is Gone"?
Is that Lil' Bobby Hutton looking back, Eldridge Cleaver looking past? Are those the Panthers standing inside all that blue sky, pressed into messages of hope? But the Panthers announced what was wanted, needed, rather than what might be hoped for:
We want freedom to determine our own destiny. . . . we want an end to police brutality. . . . we want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings . . . we want education that exposes true history
Depicting faces belonging to the history of labor, music, and revolutionary politics standing side by side but sandwiched between gaily painted banners of hope, this mural is somehow both more cryptic and simultaneously diffuse. Recalling these histories, there is no escaping the loss, so what are we hoping for?
A conscious awareness of that history? Change? The healing balm of music and art? An end to the insidious and seemingly ever-present gunfire?
Is this then a hope for a wide open embrace of life, the kind of embrace that art and music allow, so that we might hear again the expansive sounds of a loving and harmonious life above and beyond the whine of highways, the rattle of elevated trains?
And hope for Peace.